New Haven, a new millennial magnet
Jiahui Hu at Yale Daily News
Elm City Social opened last July. Since then, the bar’s wood paneling and jazz notes of modern hits have transported patrons to the pre-prohibition era. Bartenders in all black serve up craft cocktails such as The Black Widow, which combines absinthe and Sauvignon Blanc with deep cherry notes, and The Rubber Ducky, which is served to patrons complete with a yellow duck floating atop the ginbased mix.
The opening of the craft cocktail establishment — the sort of bar that might seem more at home on a side street in Manhattan than in a city 60 times smaller than New York — is not an anomaly in the Elm City. At least, not any more.
A decade ago, visitors to downtown New Haven would have encountered parking lots interspersed with boarded-up shop windows and the odd retail store or two, said Chuck Mascola, who has lived in the city since the 1980s and now runs an advertising firm. Now, in 2016, parking is impossible to find and commerce thrives on every block, Mascola said.
“It was sleepy,” Mascola said. “There were nice things, but crummy things mixed into it. Now it is hard to find eyesores or to see anything that disturbs a great urban landscape.”
“You find a city that is seamless,” he added. New Haven has quickly transformed from its 1990s reputation as a crime-ridden wasteland to a burgeoning commercial zone that is quickly attracting a flurry of new residents.
But what has been the driving force behind the city’s change of pace?
People — young people. And lots of them.
As the Millennial Generation — born of the baby boomers, between 1980 and 2000 — transition to adulthood, New Haven has seen its under-35 population increase by 45 percent. Millennials have been graduating from college and moving to cities since the turn of the century. With the net increase in young educated professionals with money to spend on luxury lofts, cocktails and restaurant options, New Haven entrepreneurs, developers and government officials have seized the opportunity for lasting economic growth beyond Yale’s gates.
WHO ARE THE MILLENNIALS?
Atlanta-native Melody Oliphant is no stranger to changes of scenery. After attending boarding school in Tennessee and college at Wesleyan, Oliphant needed to find a medical job in New Haven if she wanted to live and work alongside her girlfriend of one year, who returned from a fellowship in Rio de Janeiro with a job offer in the Elm City. Oliphant, who previously worked as a genetics researcher at New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, secured a two-year fellowship at the Yale Child Study Center. She and her girlfriend are two of the several hundred net recent college graduates that move to New Haven each year.
Taking into account the number of college graduates who leave New Haven, Elm City has seen a yearly net increase of 300 to 400 of this demographic between 2000 and 2012, said Mark Abraham, president of Data Haven — a New Haven-based data analysis nonprofit.
This demographic change is a microcosm of a larger national trend. Although college grads typically move to cities, there is a much larger cohort of 25–35-year-olds in the U.S. — who make up the majority of millennials — than there have been ever before.
The Elm City’s 45 percent boon in recent college graduates matches that of common “yuppie magnets,” such as Nashville, Tennessee; Denver, Colorado; and Austin, Texas. New Haven’s increase also exceeds that of Northeast metro areas Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island, where the percentage growth during the given time period was 12 and 6 percent, respectively.
In fact, Abraham said, adjusting for overall population growth, New Haven may be attracting and retaining a higher proportion of college-educated adults than Austin, Texas or Houston, Texas which are traditionally known as hubs for this cohort.
Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, city economic development administrator, provided historical perspective on the recent trend. When baby boomers, who are the parents of the millennials, graduated from college in the mid-1980s, a large influx of young educated professionals moved to New Haven, similar to what is happening today, Nemerson said. But less than a decade later, these professionals departed for the suburbs to raise their families, he added.
Mascola and the young professionals interviewed all recounted childhood memories of living in the suburbs. But many say they are questioning the idealized model of a suburban family lifestyle, given their experience living in or near downtown New Haven.
“I wanted to move some place closer to work,” said Jenny D’Amico, who works for Yale Health Plan and moved from a Connecticut suburb to an apartment between downtown and Hamden.
D’Amico added, “The idea of being able to walk to work was really cool. It’s also a really good city for young people, especially down Chapel Street, by the [New Haven] Green and by the hospital.”
Although Oliphant and D’Amico happen to be Yale employees, many more of the city’s new influx of educated young professionals work for small tech companies and biopharma firms.
WHERE DO THEY WORK?
Last summer, Arvinas CFO Sean Cassidy considered taking his company — one of the most successful biotechs based in New Haven — out of the city. A lack of lab space almost convinced him that the company’s future was elsewhere in the Northeast.
But City Hall administrators caught wind of the rumor that Cassidy would leave New Haven and take his $300-million-deal-scoring biopharm with him.
Nemerson said the city estimated that each Arvinas employee that left the city would take 150 other jobs with them. Though Arvinas has only 30 employees, Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that each high-tech job creates five new jobs in the city it is based in.
Moretti’s research indicates that job markets are larger in cities with high-tech industries because employees tend to spend large proportions of their salaries on local businesses, such as housekeeping, therapy and restaurants.
In response to these predictions, the city hastened to assist Arvinas’ purchase of more lab space. By mid-October, the company had signed a deal on a 5,000 square foot lot in Science Park.
For Nemerson, the proactivity exhibited by the city to keep Arvinas must continue for the city’s job market to grow.
“The main thing right now that will determine whether we hold onto this population will be the continued introduction and evolution of modern knowledge-based jobs,” Nemerson said. “Companies like Alexion, Achillion and Arvinas become our future.”
The Elm City’s advantages lie in its low rents and wealth of available space for expansion, Nemerson said. Biotech companies looking to expand can easily purchase new space, which is not the case in the crowded real estate market of Cambridge.
In January of this year, the city regained one of its greatest success stories. Alexion Pharmaceuticals — a $2.64 billion biopharmaceutical founded in Science Park that employs roughly 1,200 people — moved into its new headquarters to 100 College St. after leaving the Elm City in 2000 due to difficulties securing enough lab space to serve its needs.
At the company’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in February, Mayor Toni Harp expressed excitement for what Alexion could do for New Haven’s economic development.
“Our economic base is growing stronger as our innovative businesses collaborate with global ones,” Harp said. “New Haven is a model of progressive urban development of national significance.”
Nemerson added that tech companies such as Prometheus Research and Square 9: Softworks also provide significant employment opportunities.
As Arvinas and Alexion employees settle into their new home in the Elm City, they — together with other members of the Millennial Generation — must think carefully about how to make New Haven their home. But where do they tend to pin down their roots?
WHERE DO THEY LIVE?
Yale postdoctoral associate Chloe Taft GRD ’14 teaches a seminar titled the History of Housing in America. She and her class took a March tour of the high-end apartment building, The Novella, which opened last year and offers studios from $1,400 and two-bedroom apartments for $3,200 at the very cheapest.
During the tour, property developers explicitly told her class they were targeting Yale graduate students and young professionals like those at Alexion.
“Downtown New Haven has become a hot site for developers seeking to cash in on a young professional demographic,” Taft told the News. “The majority of these new projects bill themselves as ‘luxury apartments’ and do not include affordable units, although Winchester Lofts does include some.”
Roger Lopez ’18, a student in the class, recounted The Novella’s extensive amenities: a gym, private movie theaters, a rooftop terrace and more. Lopez said residents pay roughly two times the average market price in New Haven for an apartment in The Novella for a sense of community — something that 30-year-olds look for when they relocate.
As Taft’s students toured the building, The Novella’s property manager added that residents were also paying to insulate themselves from the rest of New Haven, which is still perceived as unsafe.
“The tour guide said that you’re paying to not have to walk past the Green and go into the ghettos of New Haven,” Lopez said. “It’s a community in a one-block radius. Rudy’s is across the street. Miya’s is down the block and Yale is right next door.”
With vacancy rates among the lowest in the country, New Haven is also attracting developers hoping to cash in on the high demand for housing. Given the development projects currently underway, by 2017, there will be approximately 2,000 more new apartment units than at the end of 2015. Almost all will be luxury apartments like The Novella.
Other recent developments include the Winchester Lofts, which opened in Science Park in 2013. College & Crown: A Centerpiece went live for rent last year. 360 State St., which opened in 2010, was one of the earliest and also the quickest to be leased-out, Pearce Real Estate President Barbara Pearce said.
“Because of students, New Haven has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country,” Pearce said. “Now there is a race to keep on [building]. State Street rented so quickly. Eventually like everywhere else, we will stop building once the vacancy rate goes up.”
From the rooftop terrace of The Novella, residents can spot dozens of new bars and restaurants to visit — another consequence of the Millennial Generation’s migration into the Elm City.
WHAT ARE THEY DRINKING AND EATING?
Craig Sklar grew up in New Haven before he entered the beer industry in New York City. For seven years he brewed and bottled the malted drink for Whole Foods Market and then S.K.I. Beer.
Last year, Sklar decided to open a craft beer bar of his own. He chose the Elm City because rent prices in New York City were too high, he said. This summer, his bar The Beer Collective will open on 130 Court St., which is located just three blocks from Old Campus.
Like Sklar, many entrepreneurs and restaurateurs are choosing to take a chance on New Haven due to how cheap it is to rent out a brick-and-mortar site, said Chris Nicotra, who has been an investor in New Haven real estate for the past decade and a half.
According to Nicotra, rent in the Elm City is still well-below that of Manhattan despite having risen steadily to $100 per square foot for commercial space downtown. In the past month, Nicotra has met with several investors from Boston and Providence who have taken note of New Haven’s recent growth and low rent.
“[Entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and developers] see this young demographic of the city and see how they can capture their needs,” Nicotra said. “With The Beer Collective, you’re taking this really hot beer concept and really hot New Haven. The combination is a home run.”
Other home runs — popular bars and restaurants that cater to the young — include Ordinary, Kelly’s, Cask Republic, Barcelona and BAR. In the upcoming months, the owners of Mecha Noodle Bar will open an unannounced concept restaurant that they hope will be novel, like the restaurant-arcade combination Barcade that will open in New Haven this summer.
In the past decade, this pop-up of unique restaurants has made New Haven a foodie destination, Pearce said. Although famous, places like Louis’ Lunch did not transform New Haven into a food capital of the Northeast, she said. But in recent years, restaurants are full in downtown New Haven every night of the week.
“There’s been an explosion beyond what it was before,” Pearce said. “Before it was just pizza and Italian. Young professionals now will spend a greater percentage of their income on food than people did before.”
As investors succeed in the Elm City, opening restaurants and leisure venues such as Karaoke Heroes, their young professional patrons have built a community around their products.
“In the past, I would have said that I would have moved into the suburbs and bought a house,” Josh Levinson, a 35-year-old software engineer, said. “But the more that I am here, I love it and love being a part of the community.”
Bars and restaurants such as Olea, Zinc and Elm City Social receive paragraphs-long reviews on Yelp by the site’s active contributors. Levinson, who is among those that rave about New Haven’s food scene, also operates a blog “Between Two Rocks” where he publicizes his reviews of bars, restaurants and the best pizza in New Haven.
With these new high-rise apartment buildings, five-star restaurants and swanky bars, New Haven is well on the way to transforming its past reputation.
WHAT IS THE CITY’S NEW REPUTATION?
Mascola, born in 1958, did not leave his native New Haven until he turned 18 and moved to Ohio for college. Upon graduating from Dayton University, Mascola worked on Madison Avenue before returning to the Elm City to found the Mascola Group advertising agency. His firm serves companies far and wide, including many based overseas. But one of his most loyal customers is right across from the Green: City Hall.
For the past four years, Mascola has been helping the New Haven Parking Authority promote the new meter system downtown, which he described as the “welcome mats” to New Haven. He added that well-advertised parking meters should convince visitors that downtown is a place to not only play, but also live and work.
He said his dream project would be to create a marketing plan for the city of New Haven. The city should tout its vibrant arts culture, rental prices, economic growth and other attractions for both the young and elderly across the region.
“New Haven has the product and delivers on the experience for younger people and older people,” Mascola said. “What we’re not really doing is packaging and selling that, even though it’s happening without us putting it into a marketing component and giving it a great position line.”
But what is New Haven’s product?
Fun, cosmopolitan and cultured living for a fraction of the cost of New York City living expenses, Nemerson said.
At the forefront of this new reputation is the city’s recent acclaim as a food destination. Levinson added that the city’s recent expansion of bike lanes and sophisticated new apartment buildings have contributed to the city’s new visage as a destination for young adults looking for a modern lifestyle.
Over the past 10 years, the atmosphere downtown on a Friday night has also changed to mirror the sophistication of Manhattan, manager partner of Elm City Social Ryan Howard said.
“The scene in New Haven is really transcending toward a more refined craft era,” Howard said. “It’s in a less clubby stage with more of your craft cocktail and beer elegance, if you will.”
To Nemerson, New Haven’s reputation is a key factor in the city’s retention of jobs. One of the most important considerations for biotech companies deciding on whether to stay in the city for the long haul is the quality of life that the city would provide for their employees, Nemerson said.
To prevent the city’s leading high-tech companies from leaving, Nemerson said he needed to not only facilitate the growth of a high-tech hub in the city, but also show the company’s employees that they would lead an exciting life in the Elm City. The city demonstrates it is an appealing place to live as well as work, he said, with arts, culture and rental prices that are almost 60 percent lower than those in Cambridge or New York City.
“If you have enough people who say that this is a cool place to hang out and spend time, then the software and biotech jobs will come and say we want to hire you and we want you to stay here and have you be happy,’” Nemerson said.
In addition to the growth of high-tech jobs, city officials also hope to persuade New York commuters to live in the Elm City, where rent is lower and the quality of life is comparable to cities such as Stamford, White Plains and New Rochelle.
Taft reaffirmed that all the private housing and business developments — many of which have been publicly supported by the city — fit into city officials’ plans to “rebrand” New Haven and attract a creative class of young professionals including graduate students, researchers, entrepreneurs and artists.
When asked how he would market the city, New Haven native Mascola responded in glowing terms.
New Haven, Mascola said, deserves a brand that is much more illustrious than the city’s current reputation. The combination of creativity outside of Yale’s walls as well as the presence of the University would create a convincing message that the Elm City is, indeed, an attractive place to live.
“New Haven is a brilliant city,” Mascola said. “It is America’s brilliant city. It shines.”
While downtown New Haven glitters on, the sparkle is less brilliant for New Haven’s poorer population, many of whom can no longer afford to live, eat and play in the downtown area.
WHO ARE MILLENNIALS REPLACING?
Last October, West Haven native Kiana Marie Hernandez ’18 sat down with the News.
She and her mother had just spent a year searching the Elm City for an apartment to call home. As they traveled from apartment to apartment, debates about prices —not amenities or decorating styles —lengthened their search.
Hernandez and her mother are not alone.
With the scheduled demolition of Church Street South — a 300-unit affordable housing complex condemned by the city last fall — at least several hundred families in New Haven must enter a housing market that is both tight and high-priced.
Edward Mattison LAW ’68, a member of the mayor’s City Plan Committee, recounted a visit to a homeless shelter for families. Every single family in the shelter possessed federal housing vouchers to subsidize rent. But none of them had been able to find vacant units of affordable housing to spend their vouchers on.
Mattison and Hernandez are not the only ones who have spoken out about New Haven’s alarming shortage of housing for low-income families. Since the federal Department of Housing and Urban development began to relocate families last fall from the complex, it has discovered that it is particularly difficult to keep these families in New Haven because of the city’s dearth of affordable housing units.
Taft, who completed her doctoral thesis on urban planning, said the question that remains is how New Haven residents who face high poverty levels and a severe shortage of affordable housing units will benefit from the city’s economic growth.
“Can some of the investment going to downtown go to address inequalities in other parts of New Haven?” Taft said. “And is the city getting a good return on investment with the incentives it offers developers downtown, or are those profits mostly going to the developers?”
The mayor, Nemerson said, hopes to ensure that downtown New Haven is an integrated community in terms of income and race. According to Nemerson, the city’s new housing developments benefit all demographics of the city’s population by adding supply to the housing market to lower prices. Former Downtown Alder Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94 added that the new housing developments will provide revenue to the city to subsidize affordable housing.
But the plight of the city’s poor can be difficult to remember amidst the luxury amenities of The Novella and the hip, dim lighting in New Haven’s newest bars.
Oliphant said she has noticed that New Haven is highly segregated with strict geographical boundaries of race and class. She added that issues of segregation, though not unique to New Haven, are particularly noticeable because of the city’s small size and wealth contrasts in East Rock, Wooster Square and downtown.
“[In New Haven], I often find myself disheartened by the way people, especially so-called progressive people, talk about low- and middle-income neighborhoods that are populated predominantly by people of color,” Oliphant said. “And while the problems in New Haven may not be entirely unique, I do think there’s tremendous potential in locally powered solutions that could prove unique to the communities they’re intended to serve.”
If Nemerson and Roth are correct and the city’s new gentrification will benefit all, how long will that process last?
ON TO BETTER THINGS?D’Amico said she will not stay in the Elm City forever.
Many young professionals choose to begin a family in residential neighborhoods such as East Rock and Wooster Square that are still reasonably close to downtown, D’Amico said. But New Haven’s reputation as a city with a high crime rate lingers on in D’Amico’s mind. She said the noise of sirens, gunshots and ambulance trucks prevent her from beginning a family anywhere in the city.
“There’s a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t want my kids to be exposed to at a very young age,” D’Amico said. “There’s a lot of poverty. While this is important for everybody to realize, it’s hard to deal with that kind of thing as a child.”
D’Amico’s reluctance to remaining in the city is exactly what Nemerson and other economic development officials in the city dread. They hope that the young professionals currently flooding into New Haven will either move from downtown to streets in the city with stand-alone houses and grassy front lawns. By remaining in New Haven, this demographic will continue to attract businesses, developers and more like-minded professionals to the Elm City.
In a good omen for city officials, key indicators suggest New Haven’s cohort of millennials will not abandon the city, at least, not any time soon.
Unlike their parents, the Millennial Generation is choosing to begin families later in their lives. Young educated professionals in New Haven will continue pursuing the single-life — with high-rise apartments and regular revelry at Elm City Social — for longer than their parents did. Levinson confirmed that he and many of his friends are enjoying their historically lengthy youth.
“[A lot of people I know in New Haven] don’t have kids or want to buy a house — the path that a traditional lifestyle would lead them to,” Levinson said. “A lot of people are delaying buying a house and having a family. They’re pushing it out further and they are enjoying being young.”
The recent influx of the forever young millennials has also been accompanied by their parents’ move into the city.
Hundreds of empty nesters in nearby suburbs have sold their homes to buy apartments downtown, a trend completely new to the Elm City, Pearce said, adding that apartments on 360 State St. or 100 York St. are particularly popular options.
Pearce added that only in New York City have retired adults moved back downtown after raising children in the suburbs. They did so to avoid having to drive, Pearce said.
She conjectured that in New Haven, the recent boom in construction and desire to be close to children has convinced the elderly to trade their grassy lawns for a downtown loft.
“My father moved from his big house in [Greater] New Haven to Whitney Grove Square,” Pearce said. “That was unusual. Now it is very common for people to do stuff like that. If you just took one building at 100 York you would find it astonishing how many people who live elsewhere in Greater New Haven now live there.”
This and the Millennial Generation’s decision to begin families later in life will combine to make the current demographic wave longer and larger, Nemerson said.Mascola said that signs from his market research suggest many millennials will remain in the city, whether they decide to move into residential neighborhoods or defy their suburban upbringing by raising children downtown.
Mascola learned from his firm’s marketing campaign for the Union, an apartment building on 205 Church St., that the majority of people moving into the building were young adults with children. They wanted to raise their children in the vibrant arts culture that can only be found downtown, Mascola said.
“The new generation came up and wanted to do a different thing,” Mascola said. “They don’t want to go to a mall in a suburban town. They want to go downtown.”